Every desi that lives here, goes through what can be mind-numbingly boring at the very least, before they visit India – India shopping. No, I am not going to India anytime now.. Sigh! What prompted me to write about this, is the insanely long shopping list I sent to my mother, so she could pack up one of those bulging suitcases that came with my brother this weekend.
So, what is all the deal about. There was a time when, you got stuff in the US, that you didn’t find in India. My peripa (uncle) who moved here about 26 years ago, came home only once in 4 years, called my grandmother once in a month, and called us once in 6 months (perhaps). But when he came home, and opened up his suitcase, we saw a lot of things, we didn’t normally see.
1. Bic Use and throw Pens: Those were very novel when we first saw them, because around then, I used to use those fat ink pens, which had see through ink chambers, and you needed a dropper to fill up. If you got careless, you would overfill them and spill blue ink all over the place. If you were rough with the pen, you might break the nib, and if you were forgetful (like my father), you could put it in your pocket without putting the cap on, and come back home with a big blue patch on your shirt.
2. Disposable Razors: My father and grandfather had a 7 o’clock Edjtech (or something like that) blade, which they carefully handled, put it back in it’s case after every use, until it got dull as a blade of grass. These bright yellow disposable razors, seemed like such a convenient alternative.
3. Hair spray: My uncle always bought me hair spray. To this date, I’ve never really figured out what to do with it. But I tried using it for what it was worth, and found that the results were quite abominable. My hair was no longer smooth and shiny the way it was supposed to be.
4. T-shirts: Bright colored t-shirts that had american basketball, football and baseball team names on them. Of course, we had no clue what the cubs or the bears meant – just thought it was a cool t-shirt and wore it till we outgrew it and then handed it down to cousins who took it all starry-eyed.
5. Crockery: Pyrex and Corningware dishes were so cool. Nobody ever used anything other than the boringly sparkling stainless steel those days. So anything that was glass or porcelein was ‘fashionable’ and ‘classy’. Though my mother was an exception, I doubt if many people really knew how to bake or had an oven for that matter.
6. Shampoos, Moisturizers: Huge bottles of colorful and good-smelling shampoos were always welcome and used till the last drop. Shampoos were so much easier than the yucky ‘shikha’ powder that stuck to everything and was such a pain to wash off. If at all we bought shampoo in India, we only bought the small sachets from which we squeezed out every last drop to manage to get all our hair shampooed.
7. Electric Razors, Hair dryers, toasters, etc: All of this always left you feeling bad. With the converters that were so rarely available those days, these appliances would moderately perform for a couple of months, and then one of the two things – appliance or adapter would conk off and you were left with a whole bunch of useless appliances.
So all of these things and more.. made us look forward to the huge bulging suitcases that came from America. Now that everybody has at least one son or daughter settled in the US, and also because India has become so much of an America itself, buying gifts for people in India is clearly one of the most difficult things to do. Whatever you think of buying is already available in India. In some cases, it’s made in India and sent to the US. In other cases, it’s cheaper or better in India than in the US.
So, when you go to Wal-Mart and stand there by the Home appliances, or Home Decor, or Kitchen aisle, wondering what it is that perhaps your aunt or niece or cousin needs from here, you’re probably right when you think, that they have everything they need except you who are standing at a Wal-mart aisle half way across the world. But when someone in India is standing at one end of Pondy bazaar, wondering what in the world someone who earns in $$ in America needs from those dirty shacks on the roadside, it’s a whole different story – there are endless possibilities.